Brayden’s 1st Birthday!

My favorite baby turned one last weekend.  Cue the tears.  I was so excited I got to travel to Tennessee to celebrate with him!

For Christmas, Chad and Megan gave me a round-trip plane ticket to visit them in Tennessee.  It just happened that we could not get schedules to line up in the months after Christmas: I just got a new job, they were moving into a new house, so we decided to hold onto it until Brayden’s birthday.  I hadn’t seen the little dude since October, so I was long overdue!  Of course, I would have loved to see them sooner, but I’m so glad I got to be there to celebrate such a huge milestone!

I took a 6:00am flight out of New York, as in the flight leaves at 6:00am, as in 3:30am wake up call… but I wanted to get there as early as possible to really enjoy the day and get all the time I could with them.  As I boarded the flight with a bachelorette party that was continuing on to Vegas, I was really questioning my decision.  But soon, the novelty of the Vegas flight wore off and everyone snoozed.  Thank goodness!  Choosing the 6:00am flight got me into Memphis at 7:49am which was awesome!  Once you realize that you have the whole day, that 3:30am wake up call seems totally worth it!  Walking out of the terminal and seeing Brayden smile and reach for me didn’t hurt either!  I was so worried that he wouldn’t remember me, that he would be afraid of this person who he hasn’t seen for almost a year, but that first smile and him wanting me to hold him was the best feeling!

Here’s me, post-flight and B, pre-nap.  It’s not pretty, but hey, what do you want from me?  I mentioned I “got ready” at 3:30am.

T and B

Then, we played for a little bit.  Kid’s got toys for days!!

B Playing

My grandparents were also in town for the party, so we went to the new house, hung out for a minute, and then began the birthday preparations.  Megan did such a great job planning the details of his party, we just had some last minute things to grab and get ready before my parents arrived the next day.

Saturday was the par-tay and it was a huge success!  The kids had fun, the adults had fun, and Brayden loved his smash cake.  Here’s the party, in pictures:

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Not sure about that sugary-sweet cake.  Had to check with Mom.

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I think he liked it!

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Naked baby in the anywhere chair his Aunt T and Uncle B gave him.  Loved celebrating this birthday boy!

Thirty One.

Tara’s birthday is one of my favorite times of the year.  It’s an opportunity where I get to celebrate her entirely.  Because birthdays are a big deal for her as well, it always extends for the entire week.  It also stretches me to be unique and creative with each one that I get to be a part of.  To read about last year’s birthday, click <<<here>>>.

Her actual birthday this year fell on a Tuesday (July 30th) which was good and bad. With it being in the middle of the work week, we had to wait till Friday to really do something BIG with friends. It did, however, give us an opportunity to do some small little things throughout the week.

This year I feel like we’ve hit a new stride personally as true NYC locals.  Last year, our first in NY, we hadn’t really developed any close friendships in the City so we ended up planning a big birthday bash with her FL friends and family.  Thanks in large part to the small group we started at our church, our “network” of close friends has grown quite considerably since the beginning of 2013.  This is how the birthday week unfolded.

Monday
It just so happened that it was the closing night of our small group season.  We had almost everybody at the group that night (which has grown from 12 to 20 people).

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Last year for Tara’s 30th, I had a cake made by the fabulous KaraBoo Bakery and we
included on the cake 30 things that defined Tara.
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Karaboo always hits it out of the park.  I was bummed that I couldn’t fly in a cake
from them.  In an interesting twist of fate, I ended up meeting a cake maker, Amy Noelle of Sugar Flower Cake Shop, on the Friday prior to Tara’s birthday week at a networking meeting in the City.  She is extremely talented, creative, uses local ingredients and does not use fondant on anything.  She was showing pictures of her work on her iPad and after I left the meeting, I e-mailed her to see if she could take on making my wife’s cake.  She accepted and we came up with a local NYC cake idea.  As I said earlier in this post, I feel like this year we’ve really settled into our NYC life.  We don’t feel we’re tourists anymore and we’ve embraced this City as our own.  So here’s the cake we had made to represent our “local” status in the Union Square area and I surprised Tara by bringing it out on that night to share with our group…our NYC friends.
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As for the cake ingredients/flavor, here’s the breakdown.  We decided on a Champagne Cake with chocolate buttercream filling and NYC Honey Icing.  Champagne cakes are all the rage this year plus that’s one of her favorite drinks!  The honey is sold in the Union Square farmer’s market (Andrew’s Honey).  Andrew has hives all around Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and keeps the harvests separately.  The variety they are using right now is the Chelsea honey.  The chocolate was Valrhona dark chocolate.  Since chocolate doesn’t grow in the state of New York, she had to look outside and use one of the best quality French chocolates (which was great because Tara has a personal affinity for all things French!).  The champagne is a pink champagne which fit in with the purple and green color scheme.

Her gift that night was a mophie phone case/charger…a real game changer as a NY’er.  More on that in a future blog post.
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Tuesday
This was the actual birthday.  I got up at 5:30AM to wait in line at Dominique Ansel’s Bakery, the inventor of the Cronut (more on this in a future blog post as well).  I was able to score 2 cronuts when the bakery opened at 8AM and deliver them to the wife at work as my “surprise” gift that day.  The cronut had a blackberry glaze with bits of pulverized berries mixed in and it was rolled with a mix of coarse sugar and lime zest. It was filled with blackberry-swirled vanilla cream. Every month they change flavors.  It tastes every bit as good as it sounds!!
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I had some flowers delivered at work a few hours later.
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We went and ate at Pierre Loti, a wine and cheese bar in Union Square – one of Tara’s favorite things to do.  It was great to spend some time with her out on a date – just the two of us.  We tried a few different plates and shared a bottle of wine.
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Wednesday
We had dinner scheduled with some friends of ours from a few weeks ago, so before we went, I gave her a card with 2 plane tickets to the Dominican Republic.  We have not taken a vacation at all this year.  So this will be a great break for us in the Fall (even if it is just for a weekend) before my travel/gig season gets crazy and hopefully we can come back with some good looking tans for the winter!
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Thursday
Finally a night at the house just to chill and catch up on some DVR shows.  But to make the night a little special, I had ordered some ZD wine (T’s favorite) to be shipped in from Napa and it came in that day so we enjoyed a bottle with dinner.
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Friday
I had a DJ gig on Saturday so this was our night to live it up!  We went out with our good friends, Cameron and Leslee, to Beauty and Essex on the lower East Side.  I will do a separate blog post on that location later on but let me just say, this place blew our mind!  From the outside, you wouldn’t have any idea what the vibe is like.  You actually walk THROUGH a pawn shop (the front door) and it opens up to this massive 3 story space.  It’s very trendy.

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beauty inside
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They are known for their FREE “champagne bar” that is INSIDE the ladies restroom and you better believe that Tara and Leslee took FULL advantage of that.  Did I mention that it was FREE?
*NOTE: The men’s restroom, was not at all furnished with that type of amenity.
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The food at B&E is very tapas style.  We hung out there, shared some amazing food, drank some quality wine and had great conversation.

Afterwards, we went out to a hole-in-the-wall bar called Nurse Bettie for a night cap and then finished eating tacos out of a taco truck called Tacos Morelos (Cameron and Leslee’s first DATE night spot in the NYC -TRUE story and yes, this is one of the many reasons why we love them)!
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Great way to cap off 31 in the City!
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Tara’s 30th…surprise 3 of 3

Towards the end of the last post, I alluded to the rough week that Tara was having.  Let me elaborate a little more on it.  About 2 weeks before Tara was supposed to be in Florida, we received word that our Florida place was in the midst of escrow and we needed to be out by August 1st.  We had 90% of our stuff STILL in that Florida house.

When we got that call, we hadn’t bought Tara’s plane ticket yet.  We booked her to come out a little earlier in the week so she could pack up the house.  My “surprise” plane ticket had already been purchased and I had a full week of work/meetings in NY that would’ve been tough to rearrange so we recruited her parents and grandparents just in case we needed the help.  At the time, we both thought packing up the house wouldn’t be a big deal.  That is, until Tara got there and saw how much stuff we had.

She worked her fingers to the bone packing it up (as did her family).  I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you there were a bunch of 12-15 hour days.  After the party Friday, I had to jump in and help as well until our flight Sunday night. Believe it or not, we somehow managed to get it all done before we flew out.

We got back to our place in NYC around 1AM Monday morning, the day of Tara’s birthday.  We obviously slept in that day (well deserved…did I mention that we also had a wedding to work on Saturday night?).  When we got up, I informed her that she had to be done with her work by 2PM.  We were going away for a couple of days.

Surprise #3 was actually the first thing I booked.  At the end of this post, I’ll explain the secrets to booking all these gifts because it may appear that I’m a mini mogul to be able to make all of this happen and that most certainly is NOT the case.  The Florida surprises came to fruition months after this one was already finalized.  We hadn’t been on any sort of vacation or mini-break since last July and this couldn’t have come at any better of a time (especially now, considering the hellish move we — or should I say mainly SHE — just endured).  We rented a car and started driving. I didn’t tell her where we were headed.  She figured it out when she saw the sign.

Atlantic City, NJ is about a 2 hour drive from NYC and since we were headed there again a few weeks later for the DJ Expo, this gave me an opportunity to try the commute once via car before heading there again when I would be under a time crunch.  If you’ve never been, Atlantic City is like the little step brother to Las Vegas.  Currently, they’ve launched a new branding initiative called “DO AC” to market the place as a way to get out of the City for a break.  A “break” is exactly what we needed.

I booked us at the Borgata, a posh casino hotel that is one of the nicer ones in the area, even though it is almost 9 years old.

They recently finished a $50 million remodel to the rooms.  Inside the room, gray dominates the color palette with pink touches. Each one has a 46-inch, LED, high-definition TV, a shower big enough for two and ours had an incredible view.


I had called in earlier that morning to make sure that birthday champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were awaiting our arrival in the room upon check-in. Way to come through Borgata.


When I booked the hotel package originally, it included dinner at Bobby Flay’s steakhouse.  The ambience and food were amazing as you might imagine.

We slept in again the next day and then went down to the hotel’s Spa where I had a stone massage scheduled for both of us right before lunch.  It was pretty incredible.

After the massage, we hung out at the Spa for a while longer.  They had a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, showers, and snack food.  R&R was in high gear.

That evening, I decided to give her the rest of her “New York” gifts.  Nothing too crazy as far as those go. Just 2 small things.

#1: Over the last few months, we have begun watching (and now truly look forward to) Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. His sketches are hilarious and he’s really grown into his role as a late night host.  I called and got us 2 tickets to go see a taping in late August.

#2: Then I gave her 4 New York Mets tickets (NY Yankees tickets were outrageously priced) to go see a game with some of our new friends in the City, Cameron and Leslee, sometime in mid-September which should be a blast.   I love the fact that there is no social outing that Tara isn’t willing to try.  Even baseball.

Wednesday we checked out around noon and headed home.  It was a short trip but boy was it perfect timing.

Earlier in the post, I mentioned I’d reveal some secrets to my gift giving.  This may knock me down a few notches for showing you my tricks but I think authenticity is important.  If you see the way we live, we’re on a tight budget.  That means creativity is essential in finding gifts.  On the surface, it may appear that I spent about $3-4K on this birthday but the truth is, it was under $1500 with the shoes taken up $800 of it.  Even that is a little misleading as the shoes were bought with tip money so really the birthday cost was $700.  The $700 is STILL a bit deceiving as only $300 of it was out of our normal budget.

The shoes: Unfortunately, no tricks or hook-up for that one. I knew I was going to have to pay hard, cold cash for them.  But like I said above, it came out of tip money that we don’t count in our normal budget. So that really was a cost of $0 as far as I look at it.

The restaurant/surprise night: My plane ticket was bought with mileage points so no cost there.  The restaurant initially told me I’d have to pay $1200 for a private room.  I, of course, took my chances showing up the “day of” and putting in a reservation for 30 in peak tourist season.  The trick is making the reservation just early enough so you don’t hit the dinner rush.  By making it at 6:30PM, we avoided the normal dinner peak hours (between 7-8PM) so the cost was free and there was no wait to be seated.  No plating fee for the cake and a small $20 total overall corkage fee for unlimited wine bottles were huge!  I had to call in a favor for the wine…getting it through a distributor.  The cost was almost half of what it would normally be.  The fact that the food prices were so affordable really made it work for all the people who came so no one really had to come out-of-pocket too much for the food.  We have a “going out to dinner” budget and I purposefully skimped throughout the 2 weeks prior to make this one work.  So while we did spend money to eat, it was already budgeted for.  My “outside the norm” costs for the night were the wine and cake.

Atlantic City Getaway: Casino type towns make their money on the weekends.  To get business during the week is gravy for them.  The great thing about my line of work is while my weekends are typically busy and hard to take off, my weekdays are way more flexible.  I subscribe to a few travel sites that send me “daily deals” and to be honest I can’t remember which one was used to book this trip.  But they had a “romance” package for 2 days at $300.  It included the dinner at the restaurant ($100 dinner tab), the massages, and the 2 night stay (which came with the champagne and chocolate covered strawberries).  Normally, that would be in the $800-1000 range.  But because it was the weekday, they have crazy low deals!  Places like Vegas and Biloxi have similar specials.  We also have a “vacation” budget so this fit no problem.  Again, no out of the ordinary budget costs except the rental car.  Thanks to being a USAA member, we saved 25% off that as well.

New York Gifts: Jimmy Fallon show tickets are free…score there!  The NY Mets suck  (and have since 1987) so their tickets are ridiculously cheap…about the same as a movie ticket.  For both of us, it’s about the experience of those 2 things.  I could care less about where I sit in the stands…I mean it’s not like we’re talking about Dodgers or Lakers tickets 🙂

So there you have it.  Her birthday was a success and I’ve got some time before I need to figure out #31.

Tara’s 30th…surprise 2 of 3

Yesterday I blogged about gift #1 for Tara’s 30th.  While that was the first of three gifts given, it was not the first one I had planned.  Herein lies surprise gift #2.  First, the backstory.

Tara has been a trooper with our move to NYC.  It is the first time that she has really lived away from home.  Granted she lived in Tallahassee during her college years; that was still only a little over 2 hours away (a quick commute home if needed).  If you’ve spent any time with her, you’ll pick up on the fact right away that she is a social butterfly.  She loves being around people and people love being around her.

Since she works with me in my business and we work from home primarily, the opportunities to meet new people in our new City are vey limited.  Plus, for the first couple months we lived here, I was traveling non-stop so she was really by herself 90% of the time.  She probably wouldn’t admit it, but I could see it had defintely taken its toll on her.  The thought of spending her birthday (and one of such significance) away from her closest friends was slowly looking like reality.

Luckily, she had a work trip to Destin, FL (our previous hometown) planned the weekend before her birthday.  That was when I decided to throw her a surprise party.  The details weren’t totally worked out but the initial idea was that I would fly in to surprise her at a dinner with some of her Destin friends and we’d get a birthday cake designed in the style of the new shoes.  Then at some point, I’d pull out the real ones.  The last part of that plan got nixed when I had to give her the shoes early.  So I had to go to plan B.  Here’s some of the details of this surprise party.

Because it was her 30th birthday, I wanted to stay with a “30” theme throughout.  In Florida, there’s a beautiful stretch of highway along the gulf called “30-A”.  So I thought we could have it at a restaurant on that road.  We made reservations at 723 Whiskey Bravo.  It has a cool rooftop, very affordable food and a private room.

Another themed idea was to invite only 30 of her closest family and friends.  I called some of her college roomates to see if they could make it, one of her best friends from Jacksonville and of course her family.

We secretly sent out E-invites and then her sister designed a cool 3D paper reminder invite that went out as well.

The cake was the toughest part.  I had no clue what to do with the design since the shoe thing would be anti-climatic at this point.  So I put together the brains of Bob and Leslie (2 of my business partners) and the fantastic pattisier, Kara Enache, from Karaboo Bakery and we came up with something in no time.  We decided to go with “30 Things about Tara”.  While I was able to come up with the majority of the 30, I had to call in some recruits like her mom, sister and one of her best friends to help me compile the list.  Honestly, it was such a fun process.  We ended up having so many things that we had to start eliminating things to get to 30.  We left it with Kara to figure out how to incorporate everything.  Since you can’t see all 30 things on the picture of the cake, I’m listing the 30 below.

  1. Church/God/Faith
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Sunbathing
  5. Wine
  6. Beer (Miller Lite) {God only knows why that brand – Eww!}
  7. FSU Seminoles
  8. Ballet
  9. Cheerleading
  10. NYC
  11. CA
  12. FL
  13. Sushi Sho (CA Sushi Place)
  14. Bert’s Chili (Waffle House)
  15. Airplane
  16. Kean Coffee (CA Coffee Place)
  17. Shoes
  18. Chi Omega (sorority)
  19. Stationery
  20. Dresses
  21. Crab Island/Boating/Backdown / Billy Bowlegs {Boat she goes on every year}
  22. Bruiser (her dog)
  23. Chanel (her smell)
  24. Ruby (her birthstone)
  25. Justin Timberlake / N’Sync {the OG celebrity crush}
  26. Beans
  27. Stuart Weitzman
  28. 10/2/10  (Wedding Date) {Duh}
  29. SOTER (licence plate of her first used car) {was a running joke/nickname of car}
  30. 9:24AM (time she was born)

The result was this.

Her favorite color is purple so although my camera doesn’t do it justice, that is the color of it.  She loves red velvet so that was flavor inside the cake. Kara killed it!  Amazing job.  The restaurant charged ZERO for a plating fee.  So we were able to bring it in, keep it in one of their refrigerators and and have it served after dinner.

One other small thing I added at the last minute was ordering a few bottles of her favorite wine for the party.  She loves ZD wine so I had that shipped in.  The corkage fee at this particular restaurant was very minimal and was the perfect last minute touch.

I got there the day of the party.  I remained in hiding most of the day, then arrived at the restaurant a little bit prior to the event happening.  She was finishing a wedding rehearsal and we had her assistant coordinator take her to the restaurant.   At the restaurant at that time was just our work folks (we had her believing that the work folks wanted to have a drink with her).  As is usually the case in July in the panhandle, it was muggy and humid.  She loves Martinis so I had one waiting at the door in my hand for her.

She was happily surprised and we went upstairs on the deck to hang for a little bit while the other peeps we had invited filed in downstairs to the private room.  There were a few close calls of the surprise being thrawted.  Tara ran into her grandparents on her way into the restaurant but her grandmother spun a great story as to why they were out there.  Then a few of our friends came upstairs and again another story was made up. Whew!

I took her downstairs once I got the word that everybody was in the room and the surprise came to life!

This was definitely something Tara needed considering the week she had been having (more on that in the next blog posting).  I’m so thankful that so many of her family and friends drove out to be a part of this.  Major thanks go out to Bob and Leslie for helping me make it all come together.

There still was one last BIG surprise for her birthday.  #3 will come out on the blog tomorrow!

Tara’s 30th…surprise 1 of 3

Tara and I have been married almost 2 years but we’ve been together more than 3 years.  We had been dating exclusively for about 4 months before we first celebrated one of her birthdays together.  If you know Tara at all, you know that her birthday is a BIG deal.  I caught on to this fact rather quickly.  You either have to go big or go home.  So the 1st year, I surprised her with breakfast before work, balloons, gifts, an airhorn, etc.  Here’s a little recap.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxwyQnZIpKQ]
Since then, I’ve matured (slightly).  I still like to surprise her but the gifts have slowly gotten better.  Last year, as we were saving for our NY move, instead of extravagant gifts, I treated her to a birthday week of going out to dinner with some of her favorite people. Each night we went out with a different group of friends.  It was the perfect thing to do before our move later that year.

This year, I had no clue what to do.  It was the big 30…not only was she entering a new decade but it was going to be her 30th on July 30th which meant it was her once in a lifetime GOLDEN birthday.  I had to step up my game for this one.  So I kept my ears open to any clues or hints that she might throw out.  At the beginning of this year, we somehow got in a conversation of her birthday and I asked her if she had anything she wanted to do or cross off her bucket list before she hit her 30s.  She mentioned that when she was in college, she had hoped to have a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes by the time she turned 30 but that that would never be a reality.  BOOM!  There it was. I tucked that idea away for the next several months.

I started saving any and all tip money from my DJ gigs throughout the beginning of the year and put it aside.  It’s a good thing I did because I was not familiar with the cost of these shoes.  I went to the boutique store in NYC one weekend while she was away and the sticker shock hit me square between the eyes.  I was guessing $200 or so for a pair….WRONG!  That was about 1/4 of the cost (that price tag blew my Air Jordans from back in the day out of the water).  So I continued saving and on my last gig before I needed to buy them, I got a very generous tip from one of our clients that got me to the magic number.

The NYC store was out of the particular style of shoe I wanted to get so I went to their boutique in California while I was there for an event.  With the help of Tara’s sister, Megan, and one of my business partners, Leslie, I got the right shoe.

The only catch was that they had a 30 day return policy.  I was headed to Florida from Cali and we were still more than 30 days out from her birthday so I was going to have to give them to her early to make sure everything fit just right.

Leslie made a killer gift box.

When we were leaving our Florida office at the conclusion of a work day, I gave them to her.  In my nervousness of wanting to get it on video, I didn’t realize I had a ton of gum in my mouth (that for some reason I was chomping on while filming) and I forgot to rotate my iPhone to get it full screen so you’ll note the black bars on either side of the video. Nonetheless, here’s the reveal of the surprise caught on camera.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBwkPIBZZfM]

I was so stoked to be able to give that to her.  For most, that would have been enough of a gift for her birthday but I still had another surprise or 2 up my sleeve.  Surprise #2 of the birthday is coming tomorrow on the blog.